How to Clean Terracotta Pots

Terracotta pots lend a nice natural look to any garden area. There are many ways to use terracotta pots in and around the yard however, they can get dirty and absorb minerals from the soil as well as chemicals from the fertilizers that you use in them. At least once per year, it’s a good idea to clean your terracotta pots to freshen them up and make sure that they aren’t harboring any diseases, bacteria or fungi.

Cleaning the terracotta pots is easy but you’ll want to follow the steps below carefully to ensure a good cleaning and you’ll also have to sterilize them when you’re finished. You won’t want to use any type of soap or detergent on your planters so keep this in mind as well.

Soaps will leach into the pores of your planter and then into your flowers or food items that are grown in the planter. This can cause plants not to grow or the flavors to be off in your food that was grown in the pot.

Here are the items that you’re going to need to clean your terracotta planters:

  • Terracotta pots
  • Vinegar (white or cider though most people choose white)
  • Hot water
  • Stiff wire brush
  • Sponge
  • Bleach

terracotta pot photo

Step One:

Start your project by emptying out your planters at the end of the season. You can simply dump then out near your compost pile.

Allow the pots to dry off and don’t try to use the wire brush until all of the dirt and debris on the outside of the pots is all dry. This will make the next part much easier.

Take your stiff wire brush and brush all of the dirt and debris off of your planter. Do this inside and out.

Repeat this step on all of your terracotta planters before moving to the next step.

Step Two:

Soak your terracotta pots in a solution of vinegar and water using your hot water. Allow them to soak for several hours to ensure that they are completely cleaned.

When the water cools you can remove them and use a sponge on any areas that need a little bit of attention. By this point they should be pretty clean. Check carefully for any chips or cracks.

Step Three:

Now it’s time to sterilize your pots. This step is very important. Don’t skip this step even if the previous plant in the pot was healthy. You never know what is lurking in your planter and you don’t want any surprises.

You’re going to need one part bleach to nine parts hot water for this step.

The reason you need to sterilize the terracotta pots is to ensure that no fungi or bacteria remain on the terracotta pots after cleaning. You wouldn’t want this to contaminate the next thing that you plant in them.

After you’ve mixed your bleach solution you can pour it into a larger container than your largest pot.

Now, simply dip your pot into the dilute solution of bleach and water and swish them around for a minute or two. You can also simply allow them to soak for about 30 minutes if you wish.

Rinse them off in clean water in another container and then rinse them off in one more container to ensure that all of the bleach is off of your terracotta pots.

Set your freshly washed terracotta pots aside to thoroughly dry. You can place them in the sun or on a bench or somewhere that you can rotate them so that they will dry all the way around. Never stack wet terracotta pots as they can crack later.

Your terracotta pots are now ready to use. If you wish to paint them to give your yard a theme there are many different types of paints out there that can be utilized on planters. Now would be the time to paint.

terracotta pot photo

Special Tips:

Allow the pot to dry completely before you brush the dirt off with the wire brush. Dry dirt is far easier to remove than wet clumps of dirt and debris. Set the pots in the sun and rotate them around to dry them off. This may take a few hours but it will really speed up the cleaning process.

Choose a stiff wire brush as this will work better than one that isn’t stiff. If you don’t have a wire brush you can use steel wool. Use this on the planter after it’s dry to brush off or steel wool off any dirt and debris that didn’t release when you emptied out the pot.

Keep water temperatures even when washing, rinsing and sterilizing. Avoid putting a terracotta pot that was in hot water, into cold water as this could crack your pot. You can test this with your hand or with a thermometer to ensure that they are all fairly close and to avoid any breakage of your terracotta pots.

Allow your pots to air dry, attempting to dry them with a towel will take a long time and they won’t be completely dry anyway. Place then in the sun on a driveway (make sure that they are safe from cars driving into the driveway) or on a garden bench or garden shelf. Rotate them until they are completely dry.

Rinse bleach completely as it may be harmful to plants. If you’re hesitant to use bleach use more vinegar instead. You’ll want to have at least 2 or 3 clean water baths after the sterilizing process to ensure that all of the bleach or vinegar is completely rinsed out.

Always dry thoroughly, if there is any water left in your pots and it freezes the pot could crack. While drying turn pots every direction to ensure even drying. Be sure to turn them upside down for awhile as well.

Terracotta plant pots have a nasty habit of quickly becoming dirty and unhygienic. Follow these tips for cleaning terracotta pots and you never need worry again!